To be a mother is to live in a constant state of interruption. You enter this state from the very beginning, in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the conversation your body is having with itself is seismically interrupted. Your body’s chatter of I’m hungry or I’m thirty or I’m tired is suddenly overwritten by the needs of the embryo, who is hungrythirstytiredgrowingGrowingGROWingGROWING, and whose needs become louder, more insistent, with each passing day. Or hour.
Later, after the baby arrives, you don’t mind the interruption so much, at least not most of the time, because you are in love, and when you are in love absolutely nothing matters, not even the interruption of your thoughts or your sleep or your showers or your conversations with your husband or your mother or your best friend. In those early days, the baby trumps all, and you are convinced that it should be no other way.
When your baby is somewhere between the ages of one and two, you don’t know exactly how it happens, or when, but suddenly all at once and also quite gradually you find that you wish very much that you could remember what it was like to have an uninterrupted home. How is it, you think, that I have come to accept as commonplace the fact that I am stepping on things all the time, or that I find popcorn on top of the VCR, or that I just threw a tissue over my shoulder and didn’t care if it was anywhere near a trash can? How is it that my sense of order has been so rearranged? While this state of things might disturb you sometimes, there are other times when you don’t really care. Because there are tiny feet running down the hall toward you, and tiny arms circling yours. Those feet, those arms have found order in the disorder, and you are convinced that it couldn’t possibly be any other way.
Then, sometime after your child enters kindergarten (this happens especially if you have had another child, who has interrupted your body and your thoughts and your home, multiplying by a factor of ten the situation that his or her sibling created), you find that you REALLY need some time alone. Because you can’t remember what it is you meant to do today, or with your life. And while you are still in love, you are finding that the interruptions—which used to be kind of charming, in their way—are getting to be either petty or downright degrading. For example, how many times can one person be interrupted from a thought or a task to clean up another person’s poop? Shouldn’t there be a finite number of times this can happen to a person, and if so, haven’t you reached it by now? And if not now, when?
So you take some time for yourself. Sometimes just a little bit, sometimes a lot.
And when you return, you find that you have missed the interruptions—the questions and the demands and the needs—because they have become a part of you. You are no longer whole without the thoughts and words of your family surrounding you, buoying you up, making it impossible for you to remember just what you meant to do today, or last week, or with your life. Except. Maybe this is exactly what you meant to do today, or last week, or—
No, no sometimes this isn’t what you meant at all. Because sometimes, if your five year old interrupts you just ONE more time with a rambling story about the steps you must take to play his version of the game Battleship, or if your daughter asks just ONE more time if you will string this bunch of charms onto a piece of elastic that will break in thirty seconds—you think you will lose it. You think that the one most precious gift you could possibly give yourself is time—expansive swaths of time. So much time that you could roll around in it, wrap yourself up in it. So much time they’d have to rename time to something multisyllabic and imposing. So much time—
Oh, who am I kidding? If I had that much time, I wouldn’t know what to think.